Friday, July 21, 2006

Yet Another Post On Illegal Fees

I've written before about the illegal fees charged at my school. Today I saw our Student Government budget for the coming year--and 75% of it is devoted to funding athletics and cheerleading. There are two things wrong with this:

1. By ed code, student body monies are not supposed to be spent on curriculum items.
2. California's courts have ruled that athletics and cheerleading are part of the school curriculum.

I've had enough of pussy-footing around with this issue. I emailed our district's legal counsel.

21 comments:

Ronnie said...

Well this will be interesting to see how they respond.

Ronnie said...

Also, where exactly in the ed code are you pulling these claims from?

Anonymous said...

Darren,
I would rather pay directly to fund a program/activity my child is personally involved in. I know the reasons for the need and exactly how the money is being spent. Giving to some group at the district level gives me no control over where that money goes, and what it is spent on. Enough of my money is already being wasted by the government, thank you.

You have a legitimate complaint, but you offer no reasonable solution. There is only so much goverment money to go around. The alternative is to force the district to further prioritize spending. That would absolutely lead to cuts of valuable programs. Why have you chosen this hill to die on? Please be more specific about what you would envision instead. How exactly would you accomplish this without taking away from the students?

rightwingprof said...

Yes, it's the same at the university. It took a lawsuit before the university stopped applying the mandatory student activities fees to leftwing organizations.

Darren said...

I have all my paperwork at school, but a couple years ago I asked the legal department at the state Dept of Education to send me what information they had on the topic. They actually have a several page "fiscal advisory" handout which details the ed code, other law, and case law on this topic.

I got interested in this when a man who's on an emaillist with me sued the Pasadena School District over such fees. That's when I learned about all the other cases.

EllenK said...

Fees are a sticky wicket. I would love to have a fee charged for my class if I would get any of the money, but my suspicion is that I would get around 25% of the money and the rest would go into a general fund which would end up supporting pep rallies and after game dinners for the athletes. In the past, the University of Texas system schools would be required to take fees and send a portion to the Big School. This led to professors asking for under the table fees to pay for supplies and models in the art school. By being off the books, the money went into the program that required the fee and wasn't diminished through red tape and covetous administrations.

Darren said...

I have chosen this hill because what we are doing is openly, blatantly, against the law. I marvel at those who want to find excuses for us to continue breaking the law because it's easier than doing what's legal and what's right.

There are links in this post to two earlier posts I've written on the subject:
http://rightontheleftcoast.blogspot.com/2006/06/non-profit-foundation-created-to.html
These links outline exactly how we could *legally* get extra money for what I call "margin of excellence" programs. Of course, all these methods merely excuse the district from properly funding the programs, but if we're going to get outside money we ought at least to do it legally.

I believe *everyone* should follow the rules, not just the students.

Darren said...

http://comp.uark.edu/~jterrel/schoollaw/Hartzell.html

That is a link to the state Supreme Court ruling in Hartzell v. Connell (1984), the seminal ruling about fees and extracurricular activities. It's lengthy, but an easy and understandable read. I love the following lines:

"Finally, defendants warn that, if the fees are invalidated, many school districts may be forced to drop some extracurricular activities. They argue that invalidation would ¶ in the name of the free school guarantee ¶ produce the anomalous result of reducing the number of educational opportunities available to students.

"This court recognizes that, due to legal limitations on taxation and spending (see ante, fn. 1), school districts do indeed operate under difficult financial constraints. However, financial hardship is no defense to a violation of the free school guarantee." (italics mine--Darren)

EllenK said...

I am about to commit blasphemy. Here in the heart of Friday Night Lights I would like to state that I heartily wish that we would return to the days when extracurricular activities were really extracurricular, as in outside the school schedule. It has gotten where cheerleading, drill team, ROTC, every sports team under the sun are conducted during the school day in addition to after and before school meetings and practices. UIL supposedly limits the number of hours spent and the out of class days, but I promise you that I have soccer, tennis, golf and baseball players that miss one day a week during their sports seasons. Our faculty is so top heavy with coaches that it becomes a struggle to have faculty meetings due to conflicts and on top of that, almost every district has key administrators that have come directly from the ranks of coaching. Coaches can be very good teachers, but quite often they see the athletics side of an issue over the academic limitations. Plus there's the issue with "school spirit". I didn't like pep rallies when I was in high school and played in the band, with what amounts to meaningless jabber yelled through a speaker and dance routines that rival anything Vegas has to offer, if I have to go, mentally I am somewhere else. The state of Texas is supposed to make districts offer full transparency in their budgets via online access. I know people were shocked to learn that the average football coach made over two times what the average classroom teacher makes. I can only imagine what little surprises are hidden within the expenditures related to many school teams and organizations. Now if the parents will just get online and look, maybe they will begin to understand what the real goals of high schools are in this day and age.

Anonymous said...

I am a student at Rio. Our rallys are paid for by our student government, and they fund raise for the money. Athletes do not ever have meals paid for by anyone. If the team goes out, the team pays, same for travel. The atletic booster fund is used mainly to pay for coaches and equipment.

I personally think sports have been great for me, and I would not be nearly as motivated and directed without the opportunity to play them. On our team if someone can't pay, the rest of us help out. It is done discreetly. Athletic boosters will also help out in cases where there is need. No one gets left out. That's part of the team spirit.

My biggest complaint is the lack of recognition we get. (I don't play football) Our football team is not so great, and they set the tone for the rest of the school. It is too bad since we do have some really good teams. Our administration could care less about any of our teams accomplishments. I have never had an administrator at Rio congratulate me, they don't even know about our team.

Mr. Miller I hope that what you are doing doesn't take away opportunities from us students to play sports and be involved in other activities. For many of us it is the most invigorating part of our day. (except of course for math class) Where does all the districts money go anyhow?

Darren said...

Brace yourselves.

Our student government has over $100,000 to play with. Over 75% of that money is budgeted to go to our athletic teams--again, this is in addition to money the boosters (legally) bring in and the (illegal) fees we charge the participants.

I, too, hope this doesn't limit opportunities for our students to participate in sports. That doesn't negate the fact that we should comply with the law. As I've written before and linked to in this post, there are several ways to do this legally.

J-Mama said...

I'm a bit confused and hope you can add a bit of clarity as this is a big issue in so many schools:

Is there a difference between fees charged directly to the students as a function of participating in the class or activity (cheerleading fees; photo lab fee) and student government fund monies? It seems that the two sources are conflated here.

What sources of income/monies are available to your school's ASB? Are the funds subject to approval by the school's elected ASB representatives? (75% to cheerleading and football seems like it should be the subject of scrutiny and debate, but is there some elected body making the decision and therefore, in theory at least, being held accountable?)

Finally, do you have citations for the rulings re: football and cheerleading as curriculum? I've actually seen at least one CA Constitution cite that refers to athletics as extracurricular (art. IX, § 5). That said, you seem to be right about participation fees: the courts have said they can't be required in public schools.

Darren said...

J-Mama, hope I can clarify this somewhat for you.

There is a difference between student government money and fees charged in classes. Fees charged in classes and other school functions are clearly illegal--see the comment above with the URL to the ruling in the Hartzell case.

Student government monies are gotten through fundraising, and the student government and school administration authorize their expenditure. However, ed code does not allow student government money to be spent on curricular items or other items that the school is supposed to pay for (e.g., textbooks).

I didn't intend to conflate the two monies in this post. My intent was to show that not only do we charge illegal fees, but also that we (quite possibly) illegally misspend student body monies.

Darren said...

Here are some quotes from the Hartzell ruling. I've skipped plenty, but have chosen the quotes below (and kept them in the order they appear in the ruling) to give what I deem to be a clear representation of the impact of the ruling.

**********

May a public high school district charge fees for educational programs simply because they have been denominated "extracurricular"? [35 Cal.3d 902]

The Santa Barbara High School District (District) offers a wide variety of extracurricular activities, ranging from cheerleading to madrigal singing, and from archery to football. Many of these activities are of relatively recent origin. For example, in 1956, Santa Barbara High School fielded six athletic teams while today there are thirty-eight.

The activities are sponsored by the schools and their respective student bodies. School personnel handle preparations, including arrangements for facilities and ticket sales. [35 Cal.3d 904]

It can no longer be denied that extracurricular activities constitute an integral component of public education. Such activities are "'generally recognized as a fundamental ingredient of the educational process.'" (Moran v. School District #7, Yellowstone County, supra, 350 F.Supp. 1180, 1184; Kelley v. Metropolitan County Bd. of Ed. of Nashville, etc. (M.D.Tenn. 1968) 293 F.Supp. 485, 493 [hereafter, Kelley I].) fn. 12 They are "[no] less fitted for the ultimate purpose of our public schools, to wit, the making of good citizens physically, mentally, and morally, than the study of algebra and Latin ...." (Alexander v. Phillips (1927) 31 Ariz. 503 [254 P. 1056, 1059].)

Finally, in cases determining the scope of school-related tort liability and insurance coverage, courts have held that "school-sponsored activities, such as sports, drama, and the like," though denominated "'extracurricular,' ... nevertheless form an integral and vital part of the educational program." (Feaster v. Old Security Life Ins. Co. (1965) 87 N.J.Super 339 [209 A.2d 354, 357], affd. (1966) 91 N.J.Super. 120 [219 A.2d 340]; see also Boulet by Boulet v. Brunswick Corp. (1983) 126 Mich.App. 240, 241 [336 N.W.2d 904, 905] ["A physical education program, as part of the general [35 Cal.3d 911] curriculum or as an extracurricular activity, is in furtherance of and an integral part of the total public education provided to students" (italics added)].)

Accordingly, this court holds that all educational activities ¶ curricular or "extracurricular" ¶ offered to students by school districts fall within the free school guarantee of article IX, section 5. Since it is not disputed that the programs involved in this case are "educational" in character, they fall within that guarantee. fn. 14

This court recognizes that, due to legal limitations on taxation and spending (see ante, fn. 1), school districts do indeed operate under difficult financial constraints. However, financial hardship is no defense to a violation of the free school guarantee.

In conclusion, this court holds that the imposition of fees for educational activities offered by public high school districts violates the free school guarantee. The constitutional defect in such fees can neither be corrected by providing waivers to indigent students, nor justified by pleading financial hardship.

Plaintiffs also argue that the fee requirement violates title 5, section 350 of the California Administrative Code (hereafter, title 5, section 350). That section provides: "A pupil enrolled in a school shall not be required to pay any fee, deposit, or other charge not specifically authorized by law." (Italics added.)

Both the plain language of the regulation and the constructions supplied by the Legislative Counsel and the Department of Education indicate that title 5, section 350 bars school districts from charging fees for educational extracurricular activities.

**********

The majority opinion, quoted above, was written by the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Some might disagree with the ruling or with the logic used to address the points, but it is nonetheless the law in California.

Anonymous said...

"Our student government has over $100,000 to play with. Over 75% of that money is budgeted to go to our athletic teams--again, this is in addition to money the boosters (legally) bring in and the (illegal) fees we charge the participants." (Darren said)

Mr Miller,
This is true. $20,000 of the money in the SG fund is raised by the football games. The money raised by SG at Rio goes back into mostly uniform funds, equipment and the like. There are many expenses associated with our teams, clubs and student organizations.

The money from athletic boosters mainly goes to pay for the JV coaches stipends. I don't see anything illegal or incorrect about these funds being used in these manners. We are as you say, not allowed to use the money to fund cirriculum areas. Sports are popular and important to the students at Rio. Most of us in SG would like to see more school spirit, and consider Rio lacking in this area.

What the money in the budget is used for is decided upon by the members of the SG at Rio. SG leaders give the student body of Rio plenty of opportuntity to give their input, but very few kids even care. SG does many good things for Rio and provides kids who want to learn more about leadership a great opportunity.

Rio's administration is generally not very supportive of the SG kids who are just trying to make Rio a better place for the majority of the kids there. True, we don't make everyone happy, but we try to serve the majority of our student body.

Darren said...

I support athletics. I even support our "margin of excellence" programs at school, such as our photography and ceramics classes. It's just vitally important to me that we fund all of these programs legally.

If it turns out that spending student government money the way we do is legal, I have no fight. I have no doubt that the fees we charge in some of our courses are illegal, however, and it's time to fix that problem. Every school district that's been sued for such fees in the past several years has lost, usually to the tune of 6 digits. I don't think we should risk putting our school district in such jeopardy just because "that's the way we do things at Rio."

Anonymous said...

"Our student government has over $100,000 to play with. Over 75% of that money is budgeted to go to our athletic teams--again, this is in addition to money the boosters (legally) bring in and the (illegal) fees we charge the participants."

I just read this again and I am confused. What illegal fees are Rio sports teams supposedly charging students to participate? I have never been charged to play sports.

Darren said...

I have been told by several athletes on different teams about fees they've had to pay--uniforms, equipment, and the like. One even brought me an itemized receipt for over $600--and said there were others!

Anonymous said...

What about required summer reading lists? I have to read five short stories, and three novels. The books are not provided by our teacher. I either have to spend hours canvassing the local libraries and used book stores (gas is $3.00 a gallon) only to shell out my hard earned cash for books I'm not convinced I want to read, or pay the big money to order the books on line. If the reading is required shouldn't the school be providing the books. I have been required to buy books for my english classes every year since I was a freshman.

Darren said...

If you attend school in California, and the reading is required for class, then the school is required to provide the books. An argument might be made for the "local library", but I doubt that would stand up in court for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the local library isn't going to have enough copies of a given book for a classful of students.

If you're not in California, your situation may or may not be illegal, but it's certainly *wrong*.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I forgot to say I go to Rio. (I'm the person who has to get my own required summer reading books)